Equestria from Dust

Celestia awakens to see an empty world, white sandstone stretching the horizon. She wanders the world as she builds it from her imagination, filling it with life, but as time passes, the world that she created begins to seem like little more than a lucid dream, conjured from the dust.

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9. Part 9: Disturbance

Disturbance

 

 

Equestria from Dust, by soundslikeponies

 

Celestia’s eyes open to a blinding ray of light shining in from the window. A fragrant and sweet smell hangs in the air, and she shifts beneath the warm blanket wrapped over her side, blinking to clear her sight.

Celestia sits up, a hint of lavender and blue catching her eye, and she looks to the side of the bed to see Storm Gale fast asleep at her bedside with her front hooves resting on the mattress. Her face is set in a peaceful expression, her mouth parted slightly and her eyelids gently shut.

“She wouldn’t leave your side.”

Celestia turns, hearing Luna’s voice. She spots her sister on the opposite side of the room. “How long have I slept?” she asks, wearily.

“Three days,” Luna answers, standing and walking over. She glances at Storm Gale. “I tried to convince her to go to her own room and rest. But she persisted that she wanted to be there when you awoke.”

Celestia looks at the filly at the side of her bed and smiles. “She’s very protective of those she holds dear. It’s my favorite trait of hers.”

Luna sits at the side of the bed, a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. “The flare of power that came from you before you fell unconscious woke and alerted every unicorn in the castle, and even some of the pegasi and earth ponies.” Luna looks away, uncertainly. “Was that... magic?”

Celestia’s smile disappears. She looks down at the bedsheets between her hooves. “Yes,” she says, barely above a whisper.

Luna’s eyes fall to the edge of the bed, her brow furrowing. “This was what you were afraid would happen, that you’d lose control over that energy.”

“Yes,” Celestia says, solemnly.

Luna sighs and sees Storm Gale’s sleeping form shift out of the corner of her eye, reminding her to keep her voice quiet. “You knew and you didn’t tell me.”

“I didn’t want you to worry.”

“But I am worried, Sister.” Luna’s eyes narrow, her nostrils flaring. “I am worried about the way you try to take everyone else’s burden upon yourself. I am worried that you might fall unconscious again. I did not know when—or even if—you’d wake from that!”

“Luna...” Celestia says, a twinge of guilt passing across her face. “I’m sorry.”

A sigh escapes Luna and her lips tighten into a thin line, her eyes wandering to the window. At the side of Celestia’s bed, Storm Gale stirs and rubs her eyes, no doubt awoken by Luna’s raised voice.

Luna fixes her sister with a measured stare. “I will leave you and your student to talk and tell the others you are awake. Breakfast will be sent shortly.” After saying that she turns, briskly walking towards the door. Celestia just watches Luna go, only turning to her waking student once the doors swing shut behind her sister.

Storm Gale sits up, her eyes half-lidded and her mind still sleep addled as she looks at Celestia with a bit of drool on her lip. Suddenly her eyes widen, recognizing Celestia to be awake and staring back at her. “P-P-Princess Celestia!” she shouts, leaping at the Princess and throwing her hooves around her.

Celestia lets out a small oof as her student tackles her, chuckling fondly and rubbing Storm’s mane. “It’s alright, I’m fine,” she says, reassuringly.

Storm Gale ends the hug, sitting back and looking Celestia up and down. “Luna wouldn’t tell me what happened.”

Celestia deliberates for a moment, but only a small moment. “A spell I cast didn’t turn out right.”

“Huh? But you know almost everything there is to know about magic!” Storm Gale says in disbelief.

Celestia smiles a mentorly smile and shakes her head. “Not even I know everything there is to know about magic.”

Looking up at Celestia with bright eyes, Storm Gale says, “Well, you will eventually, right?”

“I don’t think so,” Celestia says with a laugh, stroking her pupil’s cheek. “I’ve spent a long time around magic and I don’t think it’s something one can learn entirely, no matter how much time one has on their hooves.”

Storm Gale glances out the room’s eastern window at the sun slowly peeking over the horizon. Her ears droop. “I told myself I’d make sure I stayed awake until you woke.”

Celestia touches Storm’s shoulder. “You know I would have wanted you to listen to Luna and get some rest.”

“I know,” Storm Gale says, pawing at the bed. “It’s just that after mom died, I didn’t want you to—” Storm’s voice cracks and she bites her bottom lip.

Celestia’s eyes soften looking at the young mare. Wrapping a wing around Storm Gale, Celestia draws her close and lies down on the bed with her, her feathers brushing against Storm’s. Storm tenses and looks up at Celestia, her body stiffening at the unfamiliarity of being so close to someone.

She looks up at Celestia with wide eyes, remaining silent.

“I promise I won’t go anywhere,” Celestia whispers in her ear, feeling the young mare relax against her embrace.

Hesitantly, Storm wraps her hooves around Celestia’s middle, squeezing her. “Okay.”

Celestia lets out a deep breath, resting her chin in her student's mane and staring out the window. Breakfast is never delivered to their room, and they waste the early hours lying in bed, eventually falling back asleep with Storm still attached to Celestia. Their breaths fall into pattern with one another while they sleep. It isn’t until early afternoon that Luna comes back, having left the two of them alone for what she deems a long enough time, and stirs them awake.

Storm Gale sits up first, rubbing her eyes and yawning. She gives Celestia a sleepy smile before hopping off the bed and walking out of the room to leave Celestia and Luna alone, the door quietly clicking shut behind her.

Luna smirks at Celestia and turns towards the door Storm Gale just left through. “You two really are close.”

“I didn’t accept your idea because I wanted to teach a prodigal unicorn magic,” Celestia says, crawling her way out from under the covers and standing by the bed opposite Luna.

Luna snorts, turning her head and giving Celestia a sidelong glance. “Then why was it you did?”

Celestia walks to the stand by her bed, spotting her golden regalia resting on it. “I wanted to teach somepony compassion, and what they could be to others. And I wanted to in turn be there for them.” She steps into her golden shoes, the metal clacking against the floor of her room.

“Are you suggesting something about my student?” Luna asks, narrowing her eyes.

“No,” Celestia replies, meeting Luna’s gaze and sighing. “But she has been very lonely since she’s come to the castle. I think what she would appreciate more than anything from you right now is a little compassion.”

Luna stands quietly as her eyes fall to the floor.

“I’ve given it to her, it’s why she is fond of me,” Celestia says, putting on her crown and her necklace with the diamond centerpiece. “But I am not the one she needs it from.”

She leaves Luna staring at the ground and walks out of the room to give her sister time alone to think. A short walk and a turn leads to a balcony, where Celestia stretches her wings and stares out over Everfree city: the bastion of her pride and of peace.

The city has no walls, only a gigantic open plateau that stretches to the mountains in the distance. Farms scatter outside the city limits, forming a progression from the rural to the lower districts to the upper districts, a gradual transition that holds Everfree Castle at its heart.

Having fainted for three days, Celestia decides to go for a walk on the castle grounds instead of flying, not wanting to cause her sister any more undue worry.

Servants and nobles she passes by pause to congratulate her on her recovery and wish her well, to which Celestia politely nods and smiles, showing that all is well and that she is healthy.

But something from the incident still disturbs her. The dark magic—the dust—feels nearly absent from her body. Its presence a slowly building pressure these past centuries, suddenly weak and distant. Although it’s still there, the tingle of the dust is almost invisible, and only reveals to still be there when she closes her eyes and concentrates on it.

Celestia heads to the courtyards, hoping a walk through the garden will clear her head and thoughts. It is gone for now, and for Celestia that is enough at the time.

Stepping into the courtyard though, she sees Luna and Rose Flame lying under a withered cherry tree, Rose Flame with eyes shut and a contented smile upon her lips.

Luna catches Celestia eye, giving her a grateful nod as she unveils her wing and wraps it around Rose Flame. Celestia smiles and returns the nod, walking in a direction across the courtyard that is away from them so that she may leave them undisturbed.

The Captain of the Guard races over to Celestia from the direction she came, catching up to her and walking beside her. “Princess,” he says, nodding his head in a rushed bow, “the nobles have been anxiously awaiting your recovery.”

Celestia smiles. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that about all of them.”

The Captain laughs uneasily. “Yes, well, there’s the matter of making some kind of statement about what happened.” The Captain looks up at Celestia out of the corner of his eye. “What... did happen, if you mind me asking myself, your highness?”

Celestia stops and brings a hoof to her chin, her mouth set in a narrow line. “I was practicing magic and I practiced a spell whose effects I did not fully read. There was a backlash of negative energy involved which rendered me unconscious because I was not prepared to handle it.”

The corners of the captain’s mouth shift to a frown, though he knows not to overstep his bounds in pressing Celestia for an answer. “Princess,” he says with a quick salute, “I am wondering if you could meet me in my office shortly, there’s some matters I wish to discuss that have built up over the past few days.”

“Did my sister not keep things running while I was unconscious?”

“She was very concerned with your well being, and stayed by your bedside most of the time you were unconscious. We’ve been handling things internally.”

Celestia glances at her sister across the way. She sighs in dismay of having her walk cut short. “Very well. I will meet you in your office shortly.”

The Captain of the Guard nods and raises his hoof in salute. “Princess,” he says, turning and briskly walking back the way he came, his golden armor dancing in the sunlight.

Celestia shakes her head and walks across the courtyard, exiting through a pair of large, oak double doors. Her hooves clack with a swift pace down the hallways as she takes a turn, landing in front of her student’s quarters, where she opens the door and steps inside.

Storm Gale lies on a carpet, Claimant of Flight open in front of her, though she seems to be distractedly twirling her mane rather than reading it. She looks up and sees Celestia, instantly straightening and getting to her hooves. “Uh, hey, Princess.”

“Studying hard I see?” Celestia says, a wry smile tugging at the edges of her mouth.

“Uh, yeah...” Storm Gale says, glancing back at the open book sitting on the floor. “Well, sorta.” She looks up at Celestia and tilts her head to the side curiously. “So what did you come to see me for?”

“I was wondering if you’d like us to join Luna and Rose Flame for magic practice today.”

“Haha, sweet!” Storm gains a smirk, rising to her rear legs and punching the air. “I’ll definitely show up Rose Flame this time!”

Celestia sighs and shakes her head. “I’ll take it you’re interested.”

Storm turns from shadow boxing her imaginary opponent and nods emphatically. “Definitely!”

“In the meantime, do try to finish your studies. I do still expect you to finish reading that book before your visit with your father.”

Storm sheepishly laughs and rubs the back of her head. “Right...”

Celestia leaves, glancing over her shoulder as she does so to see Storm returning to her book, a hoof propping her cheek up as she resumes reading keenly, although Celestia knows the keenness will quickly fade and disappear as it always does when she leaves her student to study.

Celestia goes to the Captain of the Guard’s office, stepping inside and shutting the door behind her with a gentle nudge of her magic. The Captain sits behind his desk, a pair of reading glasses atop his muzzle despite his youth.

“Princess,” he greets her formally, giving her a slight nod. He picks up the documents sitting in front of them, tilting them for easier reading. “Now there isn’t too much to attend to. Sir Barnsmill requested permission to adopt from the orphanage, since it appears his wife and him have been unable to bear a foal. I allowed it on a few terms to ensure the adoptee has a good home with them.”

“The Barnsmills are caring. I don’t doubt for a second that anypony adopted into their family will want for anything.”

“Yes, I know you think highly of them, but I thought it best to establish grounds in case any other noble family decides to adopt, to prevent outcries of favoritism.”

Celestia smiles, glancing out the window. “I see.”

The Captain scrolled down his documents, shuffling to the next page and pursing his lips. “Everything else is relatively minor...”

Celestia arches an eyebrow, before lowering it, the corners of her mouth pulling her lips back into a fine line. “There’s something troubling you that you wish to speak to me about.”

He turns a paper around and places it on Celestia’s side of his desk. “We’ve been getting strange reports from Hay Burrow.”

Celestia walks up to his desk, picking up the document and reading it. “Define strange.”

“There isn’t really a way to define it,” the Captain says, leaning forward and resting his hooves on the desk. “Ponies have been turning into sheep or going mad. It’s difficult to tell the false reports from the real, or if there even are any real reports. At this point, with some of the things I’ve read, I’m doubtful any of them are real.”

Celestia’s eyes move down the document, passing over the section about the farmer who was turned into a sheep. “This just looks like there’s a talented unicorn with a penchant for foolery.”

The Captain places another report in front of Celestia. “Similar reports. From Gallopelago.”

Celestia looks between the paper and the Captain of the Guard, before slowly bringing the document up to read. “That’s on the opposite end of the continent.”

“Several acres of corn fields were changed into pumpkins. Carved pumpkins, actually. Jack-o-lanterns.” The Captain’s voice holds no humor. “Several of the ponies there have been driven mad, too.”

“You think it to be the same unicorn?” Celestia sets down the documents, shaking her head. “No unicorn has enough magical power to teleport that far. Whoever did it must have some kind of magical artifact.”

“Do you know of any that would allow someone to teleport such a distance?”

Celestia continues reading and comparing the two documents lying on the Captain’s desk. Her mouth slips into an uncertain frown. “No...”

“I sent three pegasus guards to each location with rules to report back to me with their findings.” The Captain brings his hooves up to his mouth, his elbows resting on the desk. “It’s possibly nothing, maybe even a guard or courier with a sense of humor. It may even be a complete waste of time wanting to bring this to your attention. But something about this has me perturbed. I just thought it best if I shared it with you.”

Celestia nods, peeling her eyes away from the documents. “Is that all?”

The Captain of the Guard blinks slowly and nods. “Yes.”

Celestia turns to leave, stepping out of his office to an empty hall. Empty, aside from Luna standing at the far end of the hall. Celestia walks up to her.

“Hello, Sister. Is there something you need of me?” Celestia asks.

“I just wanted to thank you,” Luna says. “I opened up to Rose Flame, and you were right, she has been lonely living here at the castle.” Luna’s eyes shy away, a frown appearing on her lips. “I had figured she had the maids and Storm Gale to confide in.”

“Out of everypony here though, she looks up to you. Being given a cold shoulder must feel like she isn’t performing well enough. That’s why she throws herself into the studies you give her.”

“I just... I thought that would be a good thing.” A sigh escapes Luna. She stares down at her hooves as they walk, a guilty and pained look upon her face.

“Not for her,” Celestia says, staring ahead. A moment of silence passes between them, Luna staring glumly down at the stone floor tiles. Celestia clears her throat in an indiscreet manner, bringing her sister’s attention to her. “I asked my student if she would be interested in joining you and your student in training today.”

Luna glances at her with an uncertain frown.

“It will be a good chance for her and Rose Flame to learn to work together,” Celestia says, a smile worming its way to her lips.

Celestia’s smile is contagious, and Luna finds her lips turning up despite herself. “I think getting those two to work together will take more than a single practice.”

“We’ll do two, then,” Celestia says, grinning.

Luna covers her mouth as a small giggle escapes it and looks at Celestia, shaking her head with a smile. “It’s actually past when we were supposed to start practicing. I told her to have the day off and rest, but I could ask if she is interested.”

“I’ll get my student while you get yours,” Celestia says with a nod. “Meet us in the courtyard?”

Luna shakes her head. “The training grounds. With those two around each other I don’t trust things to not get... destructive.”

They split up and go to their students’ rooms. Celestia enters Storm Gale’s room to find her half asleep with her chin resting on the still openClaimant of Flight. Looking up and seeing Celestia, she snorts and straightens herself, rubbing the back of her head and blushing.

“Practice,” Celestia says, turning and walking out of the room. Getting the message, Storm scrambles to her hooves after Celestia, falling into a brisk trot to keep up with Celestia’s longer legs.

“Is Rose Flame coming?” Storm asks, nearly tripping over her hooves as she looks up at Celestia for an answer.

“Yes.”

“Is Luna coming?”

“Yes.”

Storm Gale grins, turning to stare ahead as they walk. “Ooh, ooh, can we practice the lightning wings again?”

“No,” Celestia says curtly, seeing her student’s face fall. “You two are going to be learning to work together.”

“What?” Storm makes a noise of distaste in the back of her throat. “But she’s all prissy and stuck up—and she keeps making fun of the fact that I’m a pegasus!”

“I also recall you making fun of her mane and her necklace,” Celestia points out in a lightly admonishing tone.

“Well, yeah,” Storm Gale says, looking at the floor and kicking her hooves as they walk. “But they’re weird.”

Celestia sighs as they arrive at the training grounds. Luna and Rose Flame stand across the field, Rose Flame sitting with a thin lipped frown speaking of how she doesn’t want to be there. The guards have all finished using the ground for the day, leaving the four of them alone in the field with the straw dummies.

Celestia looks down at her student, locked in a glaring contest with Rose Flame. She gives Storm’s rear a slight nudge with her hoof. “Go on,” she says, motioning towards Luna and her student, “go talk to her.”

Rose Flame’s frown deepens. Taking a deep breath and puffing up her chest, Storm Gale forces herself to march across the field, stopping in front of Rose Flame, who looks at her with a raised eyebrow.

Storm sticks her hoof out to Rose as Celestia walks up beside her.

Rose Flame looks down at the hoof being offered to her for a moment, until a smirk slowly spreads across her face. “Oh, look,” she says, “it knows how to shake.”

“Oh, look,” Storm Gale says, glaring at her. “It knows how to be a snob.”

Behind each of them, Celestia and Luna share a look, before deftly cuffing both of their students.

“Ow!”

“Ack! Hey! She started it!”

Her magic coming to life, Celestia weaves a dark blue piece of cloth out of nothing in front of her. “Now,” Celestia says, handing the cloth to Storm Gale. “Teamwork exercises.”

 

 

“Right! No that’s left! Quick! Hard right!” Rose Flame screams, gripping onto Storm Gale for dear life as they fly around the Castle grounds, a blindfold over Storm’s eyes.

“I can’t understand what you’re saying if you’re screaming in my ear!” Storm Gale shouts.

“Maybe if you were a better flier I wouldn’t have to shout so much!"

“What?!” Storm asks angrily, twisting her head back to look at Rose Flame.

Rose Flame gasps. “Quick! Left!”

Celestia and Luna watch from the ground below, smiling at each other in amusement of their students’ antics.

“I’m starting to think this was not a very safe idea,” Celestia says, following the jagged, haphazard aerial movements of the two.

“Shall I whistle for them to finish before one or both of them gets injured?” Seeing Celestia nod her consent, Luna purses her lips and lets out a sharp whistle. “Storm Gale! Rose Flame!” she shouts, waving at the two. Rose Flame’s head swivels around to look at her. She bends down and directs Storm to fly them over to the Princesses, leading the pegasus by instruction into landing on the field.

As Rose climbs off her back, Storm takes off the blindfold and shakes her head, blinking at the sunlight. She turns to Rose Flame, seeing the other mare’s mane completely frazzled and wind whipped. She stifles a chuckle, pointing at it.

Rose Flame’s eyes cross, looking up at her mane, a small chuckle escaping her.

A frown replaces Storm Gale’s smile. She looks down at the ground nervously, kicking the dirt. “Listen, I’m sorry about what I said about your mane and your necklace.”

Rose Flame reaches up and touches the hydra tooth hanging from her necklace. “You know, pegasi aren’t so bad. Flying was actually kind of fun, when I wasn’t fearing for my life.”

“Yeah, well,” Storm puffs out her chest. “It takes a pretty strong stomach to do some of the maneuvers I do.”

Rose Flame giggles. Letting go of her necklace, she sticks her hoof out in front of Storm Gale and offers her a smile. “Friends?”

Storm rubs the back of her head, staring at the hoof hesitantly. After a moment’s pause, she shakes Rose’s hoof, smiling somewhat awkwardly at her. “Yeah, I guess.”

The two of them sit there for a moment, looking each other in the eye, the sun setting in the distance and casting long shadows across the field. Rose Flame’s smile widens to a smirk.

“Don’t think this makes us equals or anything.”

“No way! I’m totally better than you!” Storm Gale says, a grin spreading across her face.

“Sure,” Rose says, rolling her eyes and turning to walk away. “Whatever.” While walking away she raises a hoof, waving to Storm Gale as she heads back to the castle.

Storm Gale shakes her head, turning to Celestia. “Can I go now, too?”

“Remember to get some reading in before you go to sleep,” Celestia says, giving her a nod.

Storm Gale turns, taking off and gliding the short distance to the castle doors.

“Maybe it won’t take two after all,” Luna says, smiling with a shrug.

Celestia snorts, but allows an amused smile to spread across her lips. “We’ll see how long it lasts.”

Suddenly, Celestia notices a shift in atmosphere. Luna’s silent, her eyes cast down at the grass, and her mouth curves downward into a worried frown. She glances at Celestia then sighs. “It just occurred to me that—” She cuts herself off and stares down at her hooves. “That I don’t know how long it’ll be—or even if you’ll have another attack like the last one.”

“I’ve been feeling much better.”

Luna takes a deep breath, but releases it shakily. She stares at Celestia for a moment, verifying Celestia’s words with her eyes. “We’ll talk tomorrow, then. It has been a long day, and I’m sure you could still use more rest,” she says, suddenly starting towards the castle. But she stops a couple steps forward and looks back. “Do get some rest, Sister,” she says. And with that, she departs.

Celestia watches her leave the training grounds and enter back into the castle with a sigh, knowing her sister will be worrying intensely over her in the days to come. Celestia glances up at the sky, the sun about to set, and heads back inside herself. Though upon entering through the doors, she is instantly bombarded with brisk hoofsteps, echoing down the halls, marching towards her.

The Captain of the Guard stops in front of her, his face grim and his helmet on. He takes his helmet off and holds it in one hoof, dipping his head in a bow rather hasty and uncharacteristic of him.

“The guards I sent to Hay Burrow,” he says, panting lightly. “One of them returned.”

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